What is it that makes a place memorable? Might be that it is really one of a kind, like the pink town of Petra in Jordan. Or that everyone knows it is very, very special, like the Colosseum in Rome.
Sometimes it is something unexpected, a surprising detail that makes a big impression on you – like, for example, the colorful roof of St. Matthias Church in Budapest that you can only see if you go to the church tower. And sometimes it is a combination of factors that may include your uncomfortable shoes.
My best planned museum: Louvre in Abu Dhabi
If you are willing to see what a man can do without limitations in space or money, you must visit the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. The United Arab Emirates is a constant source of lessons to any tourism (and/or marketing) fan, so no surprise there.
If you are able to plan a museum from zero, you are free to operate space as you wish. You can play with design to the extent of letting the ocean in the museum. You can afford to leave huge halls almost empty, with only four exhibition showcases in the middle, arranged so that each visitor can comfortably explore the artifacts.
And you can easily plan and make thematic exhibits such as ‘motherhood around the globe’ with sculptures dedicated to the mother from South America, Europe and Asia.
My best organized museum: Rahmi Koc Museum in Istanbul
You can never have enough time for Istanbul. It keeps materializing temptations from its pocket even when you’ve been there like 10 times before.
And you can easily miss the Rahmi Koc Museum, especially if you rely on travelers’ advice of the sort ‘a wonderful place for children’ and you have no children available at the moment. It is a wonderful place for everyone and, besides, we’re all just grown-up children.
The museum is so well-organized that you cannot get bored or tired. There are collections of dolls, doll-houses and tea-sets for the girls, and cars, boats and mini-trains for the boys. Get inside the old trams and try the seats in the first Turkish Airlines plane. By no means miss the real submarine tour, just mind the ceilings!
My best hidden museum: The Baths of Diocletian in Rome
Believe it or not, it is hidden in another museum – the Baths of Diocletian, which are one of the four sites of the National Museum of Rome. Only once you’ve taken a bit of a disappointed look around the Baths – as not much is left of them – you may or may not pay attention to the little sign on your way out saying “Little court of Michelangelo” and then “Big court of Michelangelo”.
The decision to take a peek at the latter suddenly puts you in a 3 to 4 hours deficit in your schedule as the Big Court hosts a big unnamed museum occupying the whole second floor on all four sides of the yard. And it is full of wonders from pre- and early Roman times, including re-staged burial finds from the area.
My best open-air museum: Astra in Sibiu
Its name is Astra and it is a huge complex right outside the Romanian cultural capital of Sibiu. There are the usual historical houses but in the form of small farms, with the yards, fences, wooden gates, agricultural buildings and sheds, and dog houses with straw roofs. There are also collections of windmills, carts and presses for oil, juice and wine.
You can see a water mill which was anchored on the river to use the power of running water for milling; an old ‘harman’ for threshing wheat with the help of animal power; the grandfather of the bowling game and a wooden swing for village holidays. The best part? You can enter everywhere and touch everything!
My most surprising museum: Museum of the Acropolis in Athens
This is a tricky category as any site has the potential capacity to surprise you – in a good or bad way. My choice, therefore, is highly subjective and it goes to the Museum of the Acropolis in Athens. My first visit to the Greek capital was for a conference happening just below the Acropolis itself.
Every day, on my way to and from the venue, I was passing by a – let’s say it – quite an ugly building which looked like the weakest day of a talentless socialist architect. What was my surprise when I finally discovered it was none other but the very Acropolis Museum! The surprise went even further as the inside of the museum was more than rewarding.
My most wonder-full museum: Museum of the Citadel in Amman
Of course, every museum is full of wonders. But I have never seen so many of them packed in so small a space like the Museum of the Citadel of Amman. The Citadel has been the heart of the Jordan capital for centuries, and its tiny museum holds artifacts that are truly rare to find.
Like, for example, the first anthropomorphic sculpture ever (or so they say!), human skull trepanation from the Early Bronze Age, Neolithic clay ancestral heads made by packing the actual deceased’ heads in clay, and so on. The clay coffins made to stand upright and open only at the top were news to me. But my favorites were the fine glass figurines of fish, birds and other creatures, and the clay pots in shapes and decorations that were a bit unusual to my part of the world.
My national choice museum: National Historical Museum in Sofia
That simply has to be the National Historical Museum in the capital of Sofia. It holds the best of my country’s material culture. Starting from pre-history all the way to present day, you will see some very special samples of true mastery.
There are some things to be said about presentation; it is simply not OK to exhibit a full tray of medieval metal bracelets with the only label – “Medieval bracelets”. Nor to show a red wall of letters without a single word as to the fact that such a small country as ours had not one but two original alphabets which have left a distinctive mark over the whole Slavonic community.
My personal favorites at the NHM include the Thracian precious-metal treasures and the heavy Medieval head jewelry that makes you wonder about the firmness of Bulgarian women’s necks.
Which are your memorable museums?
About the author: Manya the Tourist is the travel blogger Simana Markovska. She considers herself a professional tourist as her work is a sustainable tourism expert and consultant, and she has her own tourism NGO. You may check her blog and her podcast and videos on Youtube.